Biochemistry Curriculum Initiatives at UVA

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Title of Abstract: Biochemistry Curriculum Initiatives at UVA

Name of Author: Linda Columbus
Author Company or Institution: University of Virginia
Author Title: Asst. Prof.
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Biophysics
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum, Faculty Development, Upper Division Course(s)
Approaches: Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development
Keywords: Integrated, research-based, active learning, curriculum design, engaging the community

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): John Hawley, University of Virginia

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The goal of our initiatives is to increase student learning through the design of an integrated and research-based curriculum and creating an institutional and national community of faculty.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Student-centered learning. A research-based undergraduate biochemistry laboratory was designed. The students’ (85-90 per year) biochemically characterize a protein for which a 3D structure has been determined, but functional data is not reported. Effective teaching practices were introduced and learning materials were developed. Students use knowledge from this course and past courses to design and execute a functional assay of their protein. The year-long course concludes with student groups preparing a manuscript, and orally presenting a poster detailing their results. I developed an upper-level course “From Lab Bench to Medicine Cabinet” that utilizes the CREATE method to teach students how to read primary literature that highlights basic science contributions to therapeutic development. The students share and lead discussion using the steps of the CREATE method. The students write two research papers on a therapeutic and give two presentations. Campuswide commitment to change. I received a UVA grant to fund outside speakers to demonstrate the balance of teaching and research and the adoption of effective teaching practices (~80 UVA faculty). In addition, I have organized a group (20 faculty) in the college that focuses on increasing minority participation through the UVA LSAMP program. Engaging the biology community. I organized a workshop “Teaching Science Like We Do Science” at the annual Biophysics Society meeting (~50 participants/yr). I participate and help organize a New Faculty Workshop for Chemistry faculty that focuses on effective teaching practices and assessment (PI, Andrew Feig)

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: For the research-based laboratory course, a number of different assessments (SALG, learning gain focused grading rubrics, and pre- and post-testing) show that the students learning gains improved with the designed year-long undergraduate biochemistry laboratory. For the Lab Bench to Medicine Cabinet, I assess their learning through the development of their concept maps and the quality of their writing assignments and presentations

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Since the courses have been offered, ~360 students have participated. For the courses developed, the students perceive increased confidence and performance in biochemistry concept and performance, and in scientific literacy. Based on the course assessments, the students have achieved the learning goals that we have established. It is difficult to assess the impacts on the faculty and institutions that my efforts have had. Anecdotally, some faculty have engaged and come together with interest and determination to change their curriculum and methods. This year, our general chemistry laboratory has begun to implement active-learning modules. Our initiatives provided a ground-up approach by enabling the faculty to generate ideas and interests to match the administrations initiatives and funding for change.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Organizing a research-based laboratory for 85 students has come with many unanticipated difficulties. Training teaching assistants in active-learning instruction was a major challenge. In addition, detailed grading rubrics still remain a challenge in terms of reliable assessment of learning gains. Uninterested and unwillingness to accept or adopt change in the faculty is still a major challenge. In addition, convincing the faculty that quality teaching and research are not mutually exclusive is still a major challenge.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: In order to facilitate adoption of a similar curriculum by others, this course was intentionally designed to be highly modular. This modularity allows instructors to focus on standalone portions of the curriculum. Furthermore, widespread dissemination of the course material is enabled by a website (

Acknowledgements: NSF MCB 0845668, NSF DUE 1044858, and a Cottrell Scholar Award from the Research Corporation for the Advancement of Science.